Plot happens when a character gets placed into a series of situations and somehow comes out of them alive. I just saw the new Disney Nature film Chimpanzee (sorry for the first-sentence spoiler), in which a story is created out of a compilation of heartwarming and anthropomorphic shots of chimpanzees. In particular, heartwarming and anthropomorphic shots of one young baby chimp named Oscar.
Oscar is a character who isn’t hard to fall in love with:
(Image taken from National Geographic)
However, as a chimp, Oscar might have just sat there and scratched his bum for the length of the film, had Disney let him. In order to keep an audience interested in Oscar for 90 minutes, Disney used plot to create a classic Disney movie around him.
The movie follows a three-act structure, with good and bad characters, a disputed prize, themes of teamwork vs. bullying, and heightened speeds of cloud and ant movement. The movie keeps audiences of all ages watching because Oscar is a character we care about reacting to the situations thrown at him. In fact, we care about him more because of what his reactions to these situations reveal, or suggest about him.
I used to think I couldn’t write plot. I would tell people I love to write, but that “I’m not good at plot.” I decided all my books would end in apocalypse, and this would save me from having to drive my plot anywhere. I thought it would be neat, thematic.
Then I created a character I cared about, and plot fell into place. Like Oscar, I care about Jillian, and I care about her view on the world, and I need to keep throwing things at her face so she can duck them in a way that shows why she is Jillian. Oscar and Jillian can only be themselves by facing situations and finding out who they are in the face of them. Placing these characters in a film or a book where these situations are arranged into a thing called plot allows an audience to learn more about the character, and maybe at the same time about human, or chimp character too.
Alfred Hitchcock said a good story is “life, with the dull parts taken out.” In the case of Chimpanzee, life, with the bum scratching taken out. Mostly.